Originally Posted by Bob Barnes
Good point, Ghost. I believe that there is usually an expectation of a certain level of proficiency, in addition to knowledge, for a black belt in most disciplines. But either way, it is in many ways simpler than rating skiing proficiency because the martial arts disciplines are much more strictly defined. It's a critical distinction between (most) martial arts and "free-skiing."
Really, that's largely the root of the challenge in defining ability in skiing--there is virtually no
standard definition or agreement as to what good skiing is--as evidenced in many, many discussions here at EpicSki! Competitive skiing has its own rules, of course--different in each discipline. Some is timed, some is judged, but the parameters are at least reasonably clearly laid out.
But recreational skiers are naturally independent sorts, and the motivations they have for skiing are diverse. If nothing else, skiing is about freedom of expression. Most skiers ski to escape rules--not to submit to more of them. Few would blindly accept any person's decree as to how you "should" ski. Ski instructors, especially in the United States, have long recognized that what we teach must be relevant to each individual student's personal and unique motivations, and that few students will ski a particular way just because an instructor says its "right." If an instructor fails to convince students that the technical change they're working on is relevant to their own motivations, those students are unlikely to return..
Ski instruction hasn't always been that way. There was a time when ski schools were much more technique-centered than student-centered. You'd learn the technique of this ski school--French Technique, Austrian Technique, American Ski Technique, etc.--whether you liked it or not. Instructors were disciplinarians, and technique was right just because "someone" said so.
Teaching today is considerably more challenging. It would be much easier in a "martial arts discipline-like" system, where instructors didn't have to care what you wanted--they'd just teach you the prescribed technique, and the next step of the progression, without regard for your own interests or personal goals. And the measurement of ability level would be a simple question of where you were in the learning progression--which "final form" you were able to demonstrate.
And students would learn how to do a technique, instead of learning how to ski! "Good technique" would be determined by some "master"--mere students would not be worthy of knowing what they want, what they like, what is "fun" for them, or certainly, what is "good." Freedom of expression? Bah! You must do it as I say--otherwise I'll kick you out of the dojo.
Yep, that would be a lot easier for the instructor! But who would pay for it?
With rare exceptions, that would go over like a lead balloon with the free-spirited, independent personalities who tend to become skiers. Unless you're a pure follower with little self-esteem, you probably don't need someone else's opinion to know if you're having fun, or someone else's assurance to determine your own worthiness. You probably want technique to serve your needs and goals, rather than putting your goals aside to be subservient to a technique.
How many recreational skiers, really, care about doing a perfect wedge christie or pivot-slip (as defined by me, of course), just for its own sake? But if you become convinced that it will make you a better skier by your own definition
--that it will help you accomplish your own personal goals and make your life better in a way that is important to you
--then you might be willing to work on it a bit, right? It's your money, so it really is all about you!
And that is what all successful instructors do--they help YOU succeed, by your own definition of success, by helping you identify and accomplish YOUR needs and goals. They teach techniques that have purpose, not just final forms that are simply defined as '"right" in and of themselves. They teach technique not as an end in itself, but as a means to an end--an end that is meaningful, important to, and defined by you, the student, not the instructor or some "teaching system."
But how many people understand this? If the discussions at EpicSki serve as a barometer, it would seem that a lot of skiers still think that instructors teach technique only for its own sake, that we (or an organization) define a technique-du-jour that is important only if you want to, well, "look" that way, or "ski like an instructor." How many people realize that "good technique"--as defined by (good) instructors--is only measured by the purpose it serves? Define your purpose, and a good instructor will help you achieve it with techniques and tactics--as well as teaching methods and progressions--custom-tailored to you, and your own needs and desires.
That's not to say, of course, that every student needs a different technique. Good basic technique serves many purposes. Want to go faster in the race course? Rip through the powder? Become more efficient so you can ski longer without getting tired? Hold and carve better on ice? Look "elegant"? Ski smoother? Gain speed control for confidence on the blue runs? Black runs? Off-Piste? Glide through moguls without pounding? Carve dynamic, high-g turns? Ski crud with panache and confidence? Impress the opposite (or, if you prefer, same) sex?
Surprisingly, perhaps, a similar set of basic, fundamental movement patterns and tactics will accomplish all of these diverse goals. (Oh, all right--that last one may be a little harder to define!) All of these different motivations will be served by the same principles of sound, modern, technical and tactical fundamentals developed as habits ("default" technique)--augmented by the skill and adaptability needed to "break the rules," and the judgment and experience to know when to do it.
More specifically, all of these goals and motivations benefit from movements that allow the skier to efficiently ski any line and turn shape and size desired while keeping the feet going the direction they're pointed as much as possible, and from applying that fine line control to tactics that minimize the need for braking. (Braking, of course, requires different movements to twist the skis across the direction of travel into a skid, sacrificing some control of line, necessitating more
braking, in a catch-22 death spiral toward mediocrity!)
Of course, there are exceptions--motivations and goals that demand different techniques--and a good instructor can teach those too, if it's what you want. Narrow your parameters--choose your specific discipline--and "good and bad," or "right and wrong." become much more meaningful and clear. Want to learn "French Technique," throw a 720 D-spin, learn a "retraction turn," or demonstrate a Reuel Christie? These are more clearly defined disciplines where "right and wrong" apply. But are they "good skiing"?
The entire point of what good instructors and instructor organizations strive to identify as "good technique" is to serve the real, diverse needs and goals of students. And effective instructors will always make sure that their students understand the relevance of the techniques they're taught to their own, personal motivations. It's never right because it's "good technique"--it's only right (for you) when you understand how it will improve your life--or at least, your enjoyment of the sport. I may think it's right for you, but It's only really right when YOU say it's right!
(Whoa...I didn't mean to get that far off track here! I'll step off my soapbox now, and try to get back on-topic....)
Er, so...the inherent lack of a common definition of "good" free-skiing makes it virtually impossible to rank all recreational skiers on a concise, clearly-defined, universal scale of "goodness." Good instructors do recognize good technique, and may cringe at the skiing of some skiers who consider themselves "good." But, even as they can easily find a key, a focus, a movement, or a tactic that will help virtually anyone get more from the sport, they still must recognize that there are other measurements of "good" beyond sound, functional, purposeful, efficient technique. And, until an individual understands how a technical change (or perhaps a tactical change, or a focus that improves awareness and "touch," or that advances "will") will be important to him, he may well honestly think he's "better" than he really is. Ignorance is bliss, as they say, or "skiing well is easy, if you don't know how to do it" (to paraphrase the great painter Degas).
It is clear that any measurement of "good-ness" can only apply after "good" itself is defined. Good technique?--good for what? Good skiing? In whose opinion? Based on what?
The world of student-centered (as opposed to technique-centered) instruction is far richer and more complex than the old days of set learning progressions and strict definitions of approved techniques. Those days (and "systems") certainly simplified the process of rating ability--because it was only the opinion of the instructor that mattered. But they didn't necessarily help people get the most out of the sport.
If anyone still wants an instructor to tell you how good or bad you are, we'll be glad to take your money. But don't argue--if your opinion mattered, you wouldn't have to ask!